I was incredulous because this was so far beyond my wildest hopes. I had come to Spain with a sum of money that would barely stretch to a garden shed in the south of England, expecting to buy at best a ruined house with perhaps a little patch of land.
'Well, there's no point in going any further. I'll have that one. Let's go down and see it.'
We pulled the car off the road and tripped down a path. I was so overwhelmed with excitement and delight that I felt sick. I picked an orange from a tree, the first time I'd ever done that. It was quite the most disgusting orange I'd ever eaten.
'Sweet oranges,' said Georgina. 'They're mostly sweet oranges here -- good for juice. And the old men with no teeth like them.'
'This is it, Georgina. It's paradise. I want it. I mean, I'll buy it now.'
'It's not a good idea to be too hasty in these matters. Let's go and have a look at some other places.'
'I don't want to see anywhere else. I want to live here, and anyway I'm your client. Surely we do what I want, not what you want!'
We drove off, further into the valley, and Georgina took me to see a stone ruin that was slowly slithering down a hill towards a precipice. It was surrounded by rotting cactus, and groves of dead trees covered the dismal hill around it. A poisonous spring oozed from a clump of thorns at the bottom of the property.
'Hell no, what did you want me to see that place for?'
'It has its good points.'
'It has the advantage of being a long way from the nearest golf course, but more than that I cannot see.'
We moved on to look at a concrete blockhouse, a battery chicken shed, a filthy hovel infested with bats, and a sort of cave littered with turds and old bits of newspaper.
'I don't want to see any more of this sort of thing. Let's go back to La Herradura.'
So we did, and I sat on a warm stone in the riverbed, dreaming one of those rare dreams that suddenly start to materialise around you, until Georgina intruded.
'I know it's very nice, Chris, but there are problems with La Herradura. It's owned by a number of people, and they don't all want to sell -- and one of those who doesn't want to sell has access to a room he owns right plumb in the middle of the house. That could be inconvenient if not downright disagreeable. And then there's the matter of the water . . . '
Her words faded as we both turned our heads to catch a snatch of song rolling towards us along the riverbed. I made out the words 'frog' and 'crystal glasses' but the rest was lost in a gruff baritone. From behind a rock came a red goat with only one horn. It eyed us up for a moment, then performed that trick that has so endeared the goat to mankind since the beginnings of time, the simultaneous belch and fart.
'Clever the way they do that, isn't it?'
Georgina ignored this observation. 'The man you see approaching us now,' she announced in an urgent whisper, 'is the owner of the place across the river -- and I think that he may want to sell it.'
Following the one-horned goat came a huge man with a red bristly face, sitting astride a horse. He was doing the singing, presumably to amuse himself while he supervised the goat and its several companions, who included a couple of cows, a kid, a grubby sheep and a pair of dogs. He stopped, lurched forward in his saddle and surveyed us from beneath a filthy cotton beach-hat. With an oath he halted his entourage.
'Hola, buenas tardes. Would you be Pedro Romero, he who owns the farm across the river?' began Georgina.
The man grunted.
'I've heard you may want to sell it.'
Excerpted from Driving Over Lemons by Chris Stewart Copyright© 2000 by Chris Stewart. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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